Rising Opportunities in Photovoltaic Manufacturing

Photovoltaics: An Exploding Market Urgently Needs Industry Standards

Rising Opportunities in Photovoltaic Manufacturing

Global economic forces, increasing governmental market incentive programs, growing public and private R&D activity, and continuous technological developments are all converging on the photovoltaic (PV) industry to present increasing opportunities and important challenges.

Recent estimates project the global solar photovoltaic market in excess of $7 billion, growing to over $16 billion in 2012. The dynamic global market has grown an average of approximately 40% in the last ten years. Governmental policies and a wide-variety of research initiatives suggest continued, aggressive growth of the PV marketplace.

Yet, the PV industry faces a number of important challenges. PV production capacity worldwide is currently limited due to feedstock supply problems and the cost per Wpeak has to be further reduced to meet peak price levels at noon hours in the coming years. Scientists and engineers are focusing on new materials and efficiency of known materials (mainly silicon based: amorphous silicon or crystalline silicon, thin film and many others), novel solar cell designs, continuous processing innovations, and low-cost processing and manufacturing techniques.

Photovoltaics and Standards

Until now, standards at the equipment level were not really an issue in the PV industry. Although some standards were developed, such as the SEMI M6 standard for silicon wafers for the manufacturing of PV cells, the industry has been dominated by de-facto standards from dominant players, or by no standards at all.

At the first SEMI Photovoltaic Committee meeting in early September 2006, executives from the PV industry gathered together to discuss where SEMI could contribute most to the growth of the PV industry. One of the major elements mentioned was the need for industry standards at the manufacturing equipment and materials level. Dr. Ossenbrink, Unit Head Renewable Energies of the European Commission Joint Research Center stated the need for standards in PV as "Standards in photovoltaic are essential for the industry in order to lower trade barriers and to reduce the cost of ownership for cell and module manufacturers of their production facilities. Both elements are key to reach competitiveness of the photovoltaic industry in a global energy market."

In order to become a cost effective energy source, PV needs to lower its costs per energy unit to the same level as current energy sources: i.e., in the range of 20 Euro-cents (25 cents U.S.) per kWh for peak prizes in grid connected systems (cell manufacturing cost is about 40% of the total system cost, see figure 1; price point depends on local situation and energy price evolutions, see figure 2). In order to achieve this, any inefficiency such as buffer-stock, change of carrier, machine-to-machine communication and process observables for advanced process control needs to be eliminated. Many semiconductor equipment manufacturers that have diversified their product mix to PV are using some existing (SEMI) standards. But the PV equipment industry has to intensify the standardization effort in order to become truly global. SEMI is committed to PV industry standards development in order to enable and accelerate this process. Key market players are needed to create a workgroup in order to investigate these opportunities and their business importance in detail. Next steps include drafting a prioritization and action plan and from there experts can start to create task forces.

SEMI and Photovoltaics

SEMI is committed to helping our members navigate the increasingly complex PV marketplace through a variety of programs designed to facilitate industry growth, improve member profitability, and combat industry threats. PV presents a number of important divergences and special needs from its core programs in semiconductor manufacturing. For this reason, PV requires a focused approach of special programs and activities. Current plans for SEMI members in the PV industry include:

  • Promoting and facilitating the creation and use of industry standards
  • Highlighting the important trends in PV manufacturing at SEMI B2B tradeshows
  • Facilitating valuable executive networking between global suppliers and customers at events
  • Partnering with other industry, trade, research institutions to advance SEMI Member interests, and the industry as a whole
  • Providing market research and statistics to help guide investment and other business decisions
  • Helping to advance member interests before governmental and regulatory authorities through industry education, partnerships and affiliations with other organizations

As the PV industry is a relatively young industry, the challenges ahead are huge. However, this was also the case for the semiconductor industry a few decades ago. SEMI participated in the evolution of the semiconductor industry, and we hope that we can contribute in the same way to the PV industry.

Figure 1: cost distribution of an installed PV system
(Source: Sarrasin)

Figure 2: Cost development of PV generated electricity vs. conventional price of electricity
(Source: Schott Solar)